Top Ten Tent Camping in the Carolinas
Beachfront property is expensive and in high demand these days, making ocean camping a difficult proposition is some places. Luckily, the state of South Carolina owns 4 miles of beachfront on quiet Hunting Island, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Here, tent campers can pitch their shelter in the main campground by the beach, or in the seclusion of walk-in tent campsites, then explore a restored historic lighthouse and the natural beauty beyond the beach, where live oak/pine/palm forests contrast with the grassy estuaries toward the mainland.
Hunting Island's widespread campground set along the Atlantic shoreline attracts tent campers with its natural beauty. The first loop has campsites 1 through 59. Live oaks, palms, and slash pines shade the oceanside sites. This is the land of the RVs, but the tent sites are appealing. If you are going to camp here, go for sites 38 through 55. They are within feet of the beach. The second beachfront loop has campsites 60 through 86. These sites are heavily shaded, too, with more pines than live oaks. The best sites here are 61 through 73, where pine needles, oak leaves, and sand carpet the campsites.
The rear camping area houses campsites 89 through 200, in a series of loops. The woods are thicker here and ancient wooded dunes offer geographic relief to the otherwise flat area. Palmetto and brush add campsite privacy. This rear area also has the two walk-in tent camping areas, where solitude and quiet reign. The first walk-in area, sites T-1 through T-5, leaves the main campground near campsite 162. A sandy path leads to a heavily wooded rolling area, so hilly that tent sites are limited. Some sites have a fire grate in addition to a picnic table. The farthest walk is less than 100 yards but seems a world away from the main campground. The second walk-in tent camping area, near campsite 177, has sites T-6 through T-10. These are the best tent sites. They are more widespread, larger, and have more level ground among the trees.
A camp store is conveniently located within walking distance of all the sites, and water spigots are located at each walk-in tent area. Eight bath houses are spread throughout the campground. The walk-in sites fill on holiday weekends but are available any weekday. The rest of the campground fills every weekend during summer and occasionally during the week. Only campsites 1 through 40 are reservable. Mosquitoes can be troublesome following rainy periods so call ahead for the latest bug report.
The beach is what drew me to Hunting Island. I enjoyed walking to the north end of the island, then a good way south, stopping to check out the Hunting Island Lighthouse. Built in 1873, the lighthouse and surrounding grounds have been preserved. Enjoy the view from the top of the lighthouse and also the interpretive information about the lighthouse keepers. The lives they led with their families at this solitary outpost assisted ships in avoiding the offshore shoals between Savannah and Charleston. Other park visitors will be surf fishing or angling from the 1,120-foot pier extending into Fripp Island Inlet, in hopes of catching whiting, speckle trout, drum, or flounder.
You can enjoy the beautiful forest via the 8 miles of trails that course through the park's interior. One trail leads from the campground access road to the historic lighthouse area. Another path makes a 6-mile loop to the end of the island by the fishing pier and back. The mainland side of the park features a boardwalk through an estuarine marsh and also has a wildlife viewing area. The most appealing aspect of the park is its pristine natural state and lack of nearby commercialism and high-rise condos. During busy times, the campground itself can seem bustling, but not compared to other beach destinations. Spring and fall are ideal times to enjoy this park, but anytime is better than no time at all.
Address: Hunting Island State Park, 2555 Sea Island Pkwy, Hunting Island, SC 29920; (843) 838-2011; http://www.southcarolinaparks.com
Open: Tent sites open March-November; campsites 1 to 86, year-round
Sites: 10 walk-in tent sites, 180 other sites
Assignment: First come, first served and by reservation
Fee: $11.50 walk-in tent sites; others, $23 per night March to October, $19 per night November to February
Elevation: Sea level
Pets: On leash only
Fires: In fire rings only
Vehicles: Two cars per walk-in tent site
Other: 14-day stay limit
From US 17 in McClellanville, take SC 45 for 8.2 miles to the campground, on your left.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication